Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lucky #3

Isabel’s doll is propped up on the small chair in her room.

The unforgiving one her father Frederick made when he was young and impatient and everything was possible.

by Darryl Joel Berger
Her mother Margaret was supposed to make cushions out of gingham and goose down – whatever was cheapest – a bolt of rough fabric under her arm and a gander’s wrung neck clasped in her hand, Maggie’s upper lip warm with sweat, her eyes following Freddy in and out of the light.

But her mother hated sewing. Margaret flumped down on the unforgiving chair with her bony ass and declared it fine. (She was also supposed to answer the door with cheeks flushed and floured, the smell of baking clinging to her like a bashful child…)

When she was small, Isabel poked the doll’s eyes to see how they worked, to feel the gleam of the whites. The doll’s pursed lips seemed like an invitation, a meaningful gesture, but when Isabel leaned in, the doll’s lips never softened.

Her father now buys chairs – and their associated cushions – from others. Frederick has parked himself behind a desk, but he likes splitting wood, for the shapes he makes in the shadows, for bone-crack of wood as the axe hits it.

Frederick likes how the wood is reduced to softest ash in the fireplace, how it burns fiercely as it fails.

Margaret mangles and cooks, writes consoling letters to her spinster sister and shares recipes for gory pickled beets with her neighbours. She most looks forward to tallying the month’s accounts, Isabel practicing her letters at the table next to her, head bowed.

Margaret likes to smooth the hair on the crown of Isabel’s head.

I built you, Maggie will tell Isabel, while Freddy pokes at the fire.

Isabel likes to imagine that she is full of cogs and wheels. But knows she is made of blood and bone, her mother’s pointy chin, her father’s waxen earlobes.

As such, Isabel is able to feel great sympathy for her stiff little doll.

* * *

What my collaborator Darryl Joel Berger has to say about this series we've been working on:

"The luckies are pictures I post as writing prompts for the poet Ariel Gordon (like all poets, she is riotously unfocussed). It’s kind of a choose-your-own adventure thing, only with fancy words and ambiguous concepts."

This is a lunchtime fiction. I don't usually write childhood or Victorian childhood, but it was easy to inhabit this little world for an hour or two. I got right there.

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